Casey Church '24 is often asked, "What is it like?" He typically answers with one of two analogies: it's like racing a trashcan down a mile of ice or, if you'd prefer, it's like steering a rollercoaster at speeds eclipsing 90 miles an hour. Of course, there's only one way to really find out...
In living rooms and sports bars across the country last month, Americans cheered on athletes competing at the Winter Olympics. In Cadyville, New York, sports fans gathered at a Buffalo Wild Wings to watch the final run of the 4-man bobsled. As 25-year-old Hunter Church, the fourth youngest American to pilot a sled at the Winter Games since World War II, drove to a 10th place finish, there were spirited chants of "USA! USA!" Casey Church was cheering and also crying. He had just witnessed his brother realize their Olympic dreams.
Casey's first memory of the bobsled was watching his older brother compete. Hunter was 10 years old, which means Casey was five, and on that particular day, the bobsled nearly rolled over at a breakneck speed. One of the brakemen in the sled was hurt. It was a scary scene, and Casey was hooked.
The Church boys are third generation bobsledders. Four great uncles all slid together on the 1932 Olympics track in Lake Placid before they were drafted into the war. Two never came home. One great uncle did find his way back to the bobsled, then passed his passion for sledding onto Casey's dad. Thomas Church was a successful sledder (and even appeared in a television commercial as a sledder), but as a member of the Coast Guard, he never pursued the sport full-time. If a member of the Church family was going to make it to the Olympics, it would be from the third generation.
Casey started racing when he was 10 years old, and each year through his junior year of high school, he competed in the Empire State Games. Casey earned a medal nearly every single year, and like his older brother, showed Olympic potential. Of course, to compete on the sport's biggest stage against the best in the world, it takes more than potential. It takes and demands everything.
"Sledding has been in my family's blood for almost 80 years, said Casey Church. "But to chase the Olympic dream, there's a lot that goes into it. You have to fund yourself and get sponsors for your sled. I think I could have had success, but my brother is on a different level. His driving, his hunger, I'm not sure I could match that. So I decided to go to college and give up the sport."
Hunter doesn't necessarily agree.
"Casey certainly had a knack for driving. He's taller than me and could easily carry a larger frame. He had the ability to do better than me, or at least race on the same level as a competing driver."
But just because he chose college, that doesn't mean he's entirely turned his back on the sport. In fact, Siena could be his ticket back to bobsled. Casey chose Siena for its communications program, and intends to pursue sports journalism. He has one very specific goal in mind.
"My brother will likely race for another Olympics cycle. In four years, I think he'll be back at the Olympics. And in four years, I'd like to be there interviewing him as a journalist."
"Hunter and I are very close. He's one of my closest friends, and I wouldn't want anyone else for a brother. I now tell people that my brother is the most famous person I know. I'm so proud of what's accomplished."
Casey Church '24
"I think Casey's choice to go to Siena was the best move for him because Siena has allowed him to grow so much as an individual. Casey knew very early that journalism was going to be his field, and he's putting in the same drive for school that he would have put into sledding. Siena has also allowed him to blossom as a student and individual, and I'm very proud to see him put the blinders on, and with full focus and intent get to Siena and begin to establish himself as a writer."
Hunter Church, Team USA
Did You Know?!
The first bobsleds were built in the late 19th century in St. Moritz, Switzerland, according to the people of St. Moritz and the Bobsleigh Wikipedia entry. However, the setting of bobsled's true origin story (though contested) is a hill in Albany only five miles from the Siena campus. In the mid-1880s, daredevils were recklessly racing wooden planks with runners down the Madison Avenue hill at speeds of 50 miles per hour. A book published in Switzerland, in fact, concedes that the earliest known bobsled image is from Albany in 1886.